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Pakistan's top court to decide on Bibi appeal Jan 29: lawyer

Asia Bibi was on death row for eight years before her death sentence was overturned
Asia Bibi was on death row for eight years before her death sentence was overturned AFP/File
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Islamabad (AFP)

Pakistan's Supreme Court will decide on January 29 whether or not to allow an appeal against its acquittal of a Christian woman at the centre of a blasphemy row, a lawyer involved in the case said Thursday.

If the court refuses to allow the appeal, it will remove the last legal hurdle facing Asia Bibi, who is a prime target in conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan and remains in protective custody.

Bibi was on death row for eight years for blasphemy, a hugely sensitive charge.

The Supreme Court's decision in October last year to overturn her conviction ignited days of violent demonstrations, with enraged Islamists calling for her beheading, mutiny within the powerful military and the assassination of the country's top judges.

The government has since launched a crackdown on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party -- the Islamist group driving the violent protests -- charging its leaders with sedition and terrorism.

But authorities also struck a deal with the protesters to end the violence, forming an agreement which included allowing a final review of the Supreme Court's judgement.

On January 29, "the court will determine if our appeal against her acquittal is admitted", Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer who filed the petition seeking an appeal, told AFP.

"Usually the court decides on the same day if the appeal is admitted or not," he added.

Blasphemy continues to be a massively inflammatory issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven accusations of insulting Islam can spark lynchings.

Many cases see Muslims accusing Muslims. But rights activists have warned that minorities -- particularly Christians -- are often caught in the crossfire, with blasphemy charges used to settle personal scores.

Speculation has been rife since Bibi's acquittal that an asylum deal with a European or North American country may be in the works.

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